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Communication #15

Dear Friends of F3,

One of Flagstaff’s oldest institutions, Lowell Observatory, is working with the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources to draft revised bill language to address the management and development of Section 17, located immediately adjacent and west of the existing observatory campus on Observatory Mesa. Once the bill language is written, Lowell plans to ask Senator Kelly and Congressman O’Halleran to draft legislation through the Legislative Counsel. 

Background: Section 17 was granted to “Percival Lowell, his heirs and assigns” by a 1910 Act of Congress. William Lowell Putnam, IV is currently the sole Trustee. Restrictions outlined in the 1910 bill included reversion of the land to the U.S. in the event of removal or abandonment of the Observatory, or the use of S. 17 by the grantee for other than “observatory purposes.” Under this original Act, the government, in the form of the US Forest Service, was required to protect S. 17 from fire and oversee its use. 


Lowell seeks clarification in the new bill as to the meaning of “observatory purposes” and favors a change of language to include “observatory and related educational purposes.” Such language would ensure that the new Astronomy Discovery Center, associated parking, road expansion and improvements (including a possible second access road), and potential future development of a science and engineering campus on S. 17 will be in line with the legislation.  

F3’s Input: F3 has met with Lowell Observatory Director Jeff Hall and is in contact with Lowell’s consulting firm, Nexxus. We have communicated with Lowell about the need for both clarity in the new bill’s language and the need to ensure community input. Lowell has committed to providing all text of the latest version of the bill to City Council, interested organizations, and community members before the bill is introduced into the Senate.

  • F3 is seeking a clearer definition of what “observatory purposes” means in the new bill. This should define the characteristics of “related educational purposes,” and ensure that future development serves the community’s interest as well as Lowell’s.
  • The City of Flagstaff has recommended that Lowell complete a Master Plan outlining their intent for S. 17. We strongly support this and and believe development of such a plan should include citizen participation and be vetted with City Council and the community.
  • Lowell indicates that they will keep reversionary language in the new bill to ensure that S. 17 is not sold or developed by speculators now or in the future. F3 supports this decision but has concerns about how and who will determine if S. 17 is used for non-observatory purposes.
  • F3 understands and supports the need for a non-paved/gated emergency exit road from the observatory campus for safety purposes. However, a secondary paved access road associated with future development in S. 17 raises a number of significant concerns for F3 (open space preservation and neighborhood values, to name two).
  • F3 will continue to monitor the bill language and community conversations to ensure transparency and public participation.

Community input on these issues is necessary and important:

  • You can stream Lowell Observatory Director Jeff Hall’s informational presentation at the February 2 City Council meeting which starts at 3:00 pm. The revised draft bill will be discussed, as well as the plans for community outreach.
  • You can read (and sign up for) Jeff Hall’s bi-weekly updates on Section 17 here.
  • Feel free to send any comments or questions to F3 Director Michele James. City Council members may also be contacted via email.

Local Efforts: Good Information to Have and to Share:

  • Flagstaff Sustainability Program’s Climate Emergency Open House Online platform opens February 4th; Zoom Q&A Sessions: Thurs., February 11 & Weds., February 17, 6:00-7:00 p.m. More information will be available soon here.
  • The City of Flagstaff has teamed up with Solar United Neighbors to bring the Northern Arizona Solar Co-op. By joining, you’ll learn how solar works and have the opportunity to go solar at a group rate! The co-op is free to join. Join an info session on Feb.9, Feb. 25 and March 24 to find out more.
  • The City of Flagstaff’s Pedestrian Advisory Committee is seeking new members. Interested? More information is here and the application can be found here.
  • Apply for a Neighborhood Sustainability Grant in Climate Action or Resilience. You could receive up to $2,000 for your community project! Learn more and apply here.
  • AZ Legislature: F3 is tracking and urging a no vote on HB2248 (and mirror bill SB1175) because it would remove the ability of the AZ Corporation Commission to regulate power companies to achieve required clean energy standards. The City Council approved a letter in opposition to these bills on January 19, 2021.

Michele James
Executive Director, Friends of Flagstaff’s Future


General Contact Information:
• To attend City Council meetings virtually:
• To attend Coconino County Board of Supervisor’s meetings virtually: or call 928-679-7144.
• To access City Commissions including Open Space, Sustainability, Planning and Zoning, and others:

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